Selective foeticide: AIIMS study reveals dark side of Delhi


The posh south Delhi has a dark secret, as an AIIMS study on medico-legal autopsy findings of 238 foetuses and newborns abandoned in the area between 1996-2012 points towards female foeticide in the national capital.

The recent study by the premier medical institution also suggested that nearly 35 percent of the cases in these 17 years were stillborn, 29 per cent were born alive and 36 percent were born before the period of viability.

“Among the live born, death by homicide was more common than a natural death and most were left by the roadside,” it says.

Among the total number of cases, males were predominant, but on closer examination it was observed that “females out- numbered males” among the foetuses five month (20 weeks) of
gestational age, Dr C Behera, one of the co-authors, said.

“Owing to the societal bias in favour of a male, this could mean that selective female foeticide happened during this period. In India, medical abortion is allowed only up to 20 weeks of gestational age and criminal abortions and selective female foeticide subsequent to antenatal sex determination are more likely before 20 weeks of pregnancy,” he said.

This is the first study from India to discuss all forensically-known cases of abandoned foetuses and newborns over 17 years from the region of south Delhi, claims the study published in the latest issue of Medico-Legal Journal of the UK.

“Though, we analysed autopsy reports of such cases in our own jurisdiction area, ie, south Delhi, similar cases have also been reported in other areas, though we do not have any definitive study on that. But I can tell you that 238 foetuses and newborns abandoned is only the tip of the iceberg for Delhi,” Behera told PTI.

Foeticide and abandonment of newborns are important, albeit frequently neglected, issues. Concealment of child birth is often seen in the setting of unwanted pregnancy which
has been recognised as one of the most important factors in both the cases.

Among the live born cases, the majority of the deaths were attributed to murder (77 per cent), followed by natural causes (19 per cent) and accidental (1 per cent), the study said.

Shockingly, the autopsy record showed that out of 70 newborns found abandoned in south Delhi during the 17-year period, 54 had been murdered. 45 of them had suffered injury on the head by a blunt force, five were smothered, three strangulated and one had the throat slit, indicating a particularly cruel attitude. Other causes of death included natural or accidental like pneumonia, congenital diseases or hypothermia and accidental suffocation,
the study said.

Among the 238 foetuses, 115 (48 per cent) were males and 110 (46 per cent) were females. Sex of the foetus could not be ascertained in 13 cases either due to early gestational age or due to the advanced stage of decomposition, the study said.
It revealed that the place of disposal of the discarded foetus or a post-natal victim was mainly the roadside or blind lanes (40 per cent), followed by rivers and drains (20 percent).

“Bodies were also recovered from dustbins, parks, jungles, railway stations, bus stands, religious places, schools and hospitals. The place of recovery could not be ascertained in 24 cases,” it said, while calling for strict measures in cases of abandoning and killing of newborns.

“Abandoned foetuses and newborns constituted about 1 percent (range, 0.54–1.82 per cent) of the total autopsies con- ducted during the 17-year period. A trend of a growing number
of cases with increasing gestational age was observed,” the AIIMS study said.

Behera said this is possibly the “first of its kind study and though there have always been news reports from different parts of the country regarding recovery of abandoned foetuses and newborns, to our knowledge, statistical data on the subject are scarce.”

A previous report, published in 2008, from south Delhi highlighted the sudden increase in the number of sex selective abortions after antenatal sex determination became freely available in India.

“We studied and analysed the records of all the medico- legal autopsies conducted at the AIIMS from 1996 to 2012 for foetuses and newborns. The details of these cases were sourced from the autopsy records and the inquest papers of the investigating officer,” Behera said.

The data were analysed for yearly distribution, gender, gestational age, viability at birth, cause and manner of deaths in liveborn, and location of recovery of the bodies.

“We are thinking of conducting a study for data available from 2013 onwards on the same subject. During the previous study our jurisdiction area involved only south Delhi but now
it also includes south-east Delhi,” he said.

“For central Delhi, the cases go to Maulana Azad Medical College, for north Delhi Lady Hardinge Medical College and for south-west either Safdarjung Hospital or DDU Hospital. The
cases of abandoning of foetuses and newborns in these areas have not been studied though,” he said.